"Baby Driver" (2017) Review
I think Baby Driver may act as a litmus test for optimism, and it turns out I'm more jaded than I thought I was.
I don't say that with a ton of glee, there's nothing worse than someone proudly talking about their cynical nature as if it's a grand achievement. I love having fun, and there's nothing more fun for me than watching an incredibly entertaining film with an audience. But Baby Driver strained that limit in a way I wasn't expecting and I'm kind of stunned by my own reaction to it. This is an Edgar Wright film after all, a man that I literally believe is one of the best working directors in the world right now.
His previous four films are infinitely re-watchable and stunning to the point where trying to rank Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and The World's End all against each other is nigh impossible for me. If you had a gun to my head right as I typed this, I'd say The World's End is my favorite, but my favorite could change at any moment. I can say without any hesitation though that Baby Driver is at the bottom of that personal ranking, beneath those four films.
But the "worst" Edgar Wright film is still head and shoulders above most movies you'll see in any given year, and Baby Driver is still a damn good movie. I'll get back to some of the negativity in the intro here, but I want to strongly emphasize the following again:
Baby Driver is still a damn good movie.
The plot of Baby Driver concerns a 20-something named Baby (Ansel Elgort), a getaway driver for a shady crime boss, Doc (Kevin Spacey) in Atlanta, Georgia. Baby is a pre-naturally gifted driver with cars, but his only weakness comes from the fact that he experiences tinnitus, causing a constant ringing in his ears. He drowns out the ringing by playing music, and drives to the beat. After finishing up a "final job" for Doc, Baby meets a waitress at a diner that he falls in love with named Debora (Lily James), only for the relationship to be threatened by Doc pulling Baby into an extremely risky heist.
The setup with Baby's tinnitus exists so that Baby Driver can set all of its major set-pieces to music, and I'll say that these set-pieces are absolutely breathtaking. Edgar Wright had always been a great visual director, but here he proves that his action chops are even stronger than anyone could have ever imagined.
He's staged amazing hand to hand combat in the past along with a few gunfights, but the car chases at the center of Baby Driver are some of the best I've seen in years. Not only do they have impeccable scene geography, not only are they tightly and carefully edited, but they're tightly and carefully edited to music. It's some of the best technical filmmaking of the year, and cinematographer Bill Pope makes Atlanta pop without taking the film to an over-the-top place stylistically.
Where Baby Driver suffers is its core relationship, the one between Baby and Debora. This is where people will have varying mileage with Baby Driver, but I personally thought it felt... Off. I don't want to spoil too much here, but the deeper you get into the film it just feels less and less plausible that Debora is so willing to go along with Baby. It helps a ton that Ansel Elgort and Lily James have a lot of chemistry and perform really well off of each other, but I just couldn't shake that feeling that the film was stretching its logic thinner and thinner.
I hate to use words like "plausible" and "logic" to talk about romance. Love is a complicated thing on the screen, let alone in the real world, but the amount of faith and trust that Debora puts into Baby almost seems borderline insane by the end of the film. Again, I think this might just be a reflection of my occasional cynicism though. Mileage may (and will) vary from person to person. The more you buy into their relationship, the better the movie will be.
Unlike other Edgar Wright films, this doesn't rely on humor as much, the tone being far more earnest than some will be expecting, and while it absolutely has its laughs (mostly from Jamie Foxx as Bats), it has a shocking undercurrent of darkness as well. Anyone assuming that Kevin Spacey brings that darkness into the film won't be surprised here, but I'll say that other characters take the film in some pretty surprising directions by the last third. This surprise was probably one of my favorite parts of the movie so I'll leave that to be discovered.
There's a ton to recommend in Baby Driver, it's one of the most solid releases I've seen in theaters this year and considering that 2017 has been a pretty killer movie season, that does say a lot. But as a fan of Edgar Wright, I can't help but feel that this is his weakest film to date. It's great to see Edgar Wright move out of his comfort zone from his previous films that have a distinct snark and edge to them, but there's some work to be done in selling a more earnest tone in the future. It's a step in the right direction though, and I hope he gets to keep taking those steps and keeps getting to stretch his action filmmaking capabilities.
Seriously, I know we think of Edgar Wright as a really funny director, but he's one of the best action directors we have right now and I'm not joking about that even a little bit. Someone let him make a martial arts film, or a John Woo-esque shoot 'em up. It would be amazing. As long as he actually wants to make it.
You do you, Edgar Wright. You do you.